WASHINGTON, D.C. – June 29, 2021 – As policymakers confront the digital divide with a new sense of urgency—through historic infrastructure legislation and the Emergency Broadband Benefit Program—the Internet Innovation Alliance (IIA) this month launched the “Connected Roundtable” to explore ways to elevate and advance the goal of achieving universal broadband. Representatives of ALLvanza, the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies, and the National Urban League (NUL) joined IIA for the discussion to jumpstart a long-term solution for broadband affordability.

Participants contributing expertise included:

  • Kim Keenan, Co-Chair of the Internet Innovation Alliance
  • Rosa Mendoza, Founder, President and CEO of ALLvanza
  • Dr. Dominique Harrison, Director of Technology Policy for the Joint Center
  • Joi Chaney, Executive Director of National Urban League’s Washington Bureau and Senior Vice President for Policy and Advocacy

All four organizations reached consensus on three cornerstones of a solution to help low-income families cover internet costs beyond the pandemic:

  1. There should be a permanent broadband subsidy to help low-income families afford broadband service, even after the Emergency Broadband Benefit runs out.
  2. There should be a separate subsidy for broadband connectivity, so low-income consumers don’t have to choose between mobile phone service and in-home broadband service. (Today, Lifeline beneficiaries can only use the program subsidy for ONE of three types of service offerings: fixed or mobile broadband, fixed or mobile voice-only, OR bundles of fixed or mobile voice and broadband.)
  3. The Lifeline subsidy amount, which hasn’t changed in a decade, should be significantly increased from $9.25 per month to an amount that enables everyone to afford the cost of a broadband subscription today.

“Just because broadband is within reach physically doesn’t mean that it’s within reach financially,” commented Keenan. “Making broadband available everywhere is a crucial step toward closing the digital divide, but we won’t reach universal broadband until everyone can afford the service and knows how to use it.”

“There’s a window of opportunity while the Emergency Broadband Benefit is available to design a permanent broadband benefit that will keep low-income folks connected once the program ends,” said Chaney. “Now is the time—while policymakers are acutely aware of the plight of the disconnected—to solve both rural and urban problems contributing to the digital divide.”

“All Americans, especially people from underserved communities, must have safe, meaningful, affordable, and reliable access to broadband internet and the digital resources that bring it to life,” encouraged Mendoza. “The digital divide is a complex challenge, but we must find permanent solutions that can guarantee effective internet access to all communities for the long run.”

“People shouldn’t have to choose between paying for a phone or broadband,” emphasized Dr. Harrison. “With a subsidy amount of just $9.25 per month, some low-income families have to prioritize food and utilities over broadband and could never afford to be online—it’s time to boost the benefit.”

IIA plans to hold future roundtables and invite additional organizations to partner in discussions to advance the conversation around closing the digital divide among communities of color. To learn more, email kim [at] internetinnovation [dot] org.

Keenan added, “The pandemic has proven that universal broadband is no longer an issue for techies and wonks; it is a solvable challenge deeply impacting American life. We want to ensure that the digital divide stays at the forefront of both action and policy.”